The right to perfect peace

I have lived in Soweto for much of my life, and I love it. It’s where my home and heart is, and where many of my friends live.

I also love my house in Vilakazi Street. I have wept and I have danced in Vilakazi Street. From Vilakazi Street, I have witnessed an important slice of our history unfold.

In the old days, ours was a relatively quiet neighbourhood.

We all knew each other, and we mostly got along.

We lived through our share of trauma as Soweto commanded the world’s attention through the bravery of its youth in 1976.

Hector Pieterson was murdered just around the corner.

In 1993 when Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, our street became the only one in the world that had been home to two Nobel Laureates.

My husband, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was awarded the prize in 1984.

We are proud homeowners.

Since moving in we’ve invested in making it comfortable.

We’ve built a few rooms, laid out a pretty ­garden and added a chapel for my husband.

We had to make the chapel bombproof. But that’s how life was in those days.
Over the years, we’ve almost grown used to tourists peering over our wall.

I’ve been in the midst of planting a new rose bush, sweating to dig a deep hole, when I’ve become aware of a camera pointed over the wall in my direction.

Whisper, whisper. Click, click. As if I were a kudu in the Kruger National Park.

I tried to accept it as the price of being married to a priest who is held in high esteem.

But I never tolerated the intrusions happily.

We built higher walls and replaced the lawn outside on the pavement with uneven rocks to make access to the wall difficult.

But much worse was to come.

About 10 years ago, after our next-door neighbours, the Maqubelas, had died tragically, we were approached by their son, Sakhumzi, to give our blessing to his converting the homestead into a restaurant.

We agreed.

We agreed to Sakhumzi’s request because we support the development of Soweto, and why not have a restaurant in the neighbourhood?

We particularly supported the idea of encouraging tourists to come to Soweto.

It’s a decision that with hindsight I greatly regret. In my understanding, a neighbourhood restaurant is a relatively quiet affair.

It does not close the streets, block the pavements and cater to crowds of thousands, with live music blaring through stadium speakers.

That’s not what I agreed to.

A neighbourhood restaurant should be subject to the correct planning rules and permissions.

But Sakhumzis has built toilets right up against our wall, extended upwards and onto an outdoor seating area.

I’m fortunate to also own a home in Milnerton in Cape Town.

There is no way my neighbours there would be able to build onto our common wall, close the streets or offer live music.
Why are there different rules for townships and formerly white suburbs?

Who decided that people in the townships need not be subjected to planning and building regulations?

Do township residents not have the same rights to peace and privacy as all other South Africans?

I am not opposed to Sakhumzis operating in Vilakazi Street.

I am opposed to a restaurant that caters for “2?000 customers by street closure” – as Sakhumzis proudly  claims on its website.

When the Springboks played The All Blacks at Soccer City a few weeks ago, I estimate there were more than 3?000 revellers outside our house. The house shook.

It felt as though an amplified electric jazz band was playing in our lounge.

Mandela House is just up the road from us. Madiba once lived there and it’s been converted into a museum.

Does the development of tourism in Soweto necessitate us also moving out and converting our home into a museum?

What if we don’t want to?

Is this even our decision, or is it Sakhumzi’s, or that of the local municipality?

I’m totally fed-up. The situation is disrespectful, and all attempts at raising it with the relevant authorities have been fruitless.

Don’t the millions of people living in townships deserve a better quality of life?

A better living environment beyond the basic necessities such as shelter, water and electricity?

Don’t they deserve cleanliness, peace and security?

Surely there are more dignified ways of developing heritage tourism and celebrating the only street in the world that’s been home to two Nobel Peace laureates?

» Nomalizo Leah Tutu has been married to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for more than 55 years.

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